The Smith River needs your voice – comment on the draft EIS today.

The channels and braids mirror our veins, giving our hearts a purpose.  The veins of copper ore are not where the real treasure lies.  It is the alchemy of the river that will continue to change us infinitely if we let it – Laura Churchman

Laura Churchman’s stirring op-ed strikes to the heart of why the Smith River is so important to preserve.  This place of infinite, restorative beauty is under threat.  We are calling on all of you, lovers of the river, to raise their voices against the mine that threatens to irreparably damage the Smith River drainage.

How can you help?

Attend an informational session about the mine and the recently released Draft EIS on May 6, 2019, Garden City Harvest Meeting Room, 1657 River Road, Missoula, MT

Submit official comments advocating for the Smith River to the Montana Department of Environmental Quality by emailing [email protected].  Visit in the coming weeks if you would like substantive talking points to make your comment stronger.

Attend one of three public hearings to provide your comment in person:

  • April 24, 2019 from 6:00 to 9:00 p.m. at Great Falls High School Upper Field House, 1900 5th Ave., (entrance to the south side of the building, at the intersection of 5th Ave. South and 19th Street), Great Falls, Montana
  • April 29, 2019 from 6:00 to 9:00 p.m. at Park High School, 102 View Vista Dr., Livingston, Montana
  • April 30, 2019 from 6:00 to 9:00 p.m. at the White Sulphur Springs High School, 405 S. Central Ave., White Sulphur Springs, Montana

Or, get online for one of two webinars offered by the Montana DEQ. Registration can be completed by following this link.

And next time you’re on Facebook, Instagram, other social media, or just talking to friends, family or strangers face-to-face, spread the word.  The DEQ needs to hear from you.  The Smith River needs you.

MT DEQ releases draft EIS for mine proposed on Smith River

If you care about Montana’s Smith River, it’s time to pay attention.  Montana’s Department of Environmental Quality just released a draft environmental analysis paid for by the Australian-owned mining company proposing to build a large mine in the headwaters of the Smith River.  We will be conducting an expert, scientific review of this analysis and the risks this mine poses to water quality, water quantity, habitat and fish in the Smith.  Stay connected with us for more information based on our review and about the public comment period on this critical issue.

Tell your legislator and House and Senate Natural Resource Committee members to SUPPORT HB411, which funds the state’s Aquatic Invasive Species program

On Friday, February 22, at 3pm in Room 172 the House Natural Resources Committee of the Montana Legislature will be hearing a bill sponsored by Rep Willis Curdy (D-Missoula).  We have reviewed and commented on this critical appropriations bill extensively.  We are advocating that the $13 million it appropriates to prevent and contain the spread of aquatic invasive species in our rivers and lakes be funded by the diverse community of stakeholders that are affected by the negative impacts of AIS. Last month the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation estimated that invasive mussels alone could cost Montana $234 million annual mitigation and lost-revenue costs.  The three economic sectors that are at greatest risk are recreation, agriculture, and water infrastructure such as hydroelectric facilities.  At a minimum, the bill should require funding from the following sources:

  • Anglers have and should continue to help pay for Montana’s AIS program. In the previous funding bill, resident and non-resident anglers contributed through an AIS license that was required to hold a fishing license in the state. That provision should remain in the new funding bill.
  • Because boats are both a vector for transporting AIS and are at risk of damage because of some AIS, like invasive mussels, boaters should also contribute to this fund. The current version of the bill includes a range of fees assessed on boats depending on whether they are motorized or non-motorized and size. We support this source of funding.
  • Hydroelectric facilities face some of the greatest financial risks with the potential spread of AIS, especially invasive mussels. Hydroelectric facilities contributed to the 2017 version of the AIS funding mechanism and should remain in any bill the 2019 Legislature considers. DNRC’s study showed that infrastructure could suffer an estimated $47 million/year impact from invasive mussels.
  • According to the same DNRC study, “the direct impact of invasive mussels to agriculture is estimated to be $5.75 per acre foot or $61 million per year.” Investing in the prevention of this risk should be a priority for the agricultural economy and community in Montana.

Tell Legislators that HB411 is critical to containing and preventing the spread of AIS in Montana and ensuring the future health of our fisheries, agriculture, hydropower, property values, recreation, and way of life.  Fully funding the AIS program should include investment from anglers, boaters, hydroelectric facilities, and the agricultural community, at the least. 

Contact members of the House and Senate Natural Resources Committees about this bill now and ask for their support.  You can leave a message for legislators by clicking here or at the Capitol switchboard: 444-4800.   If you use the website link, you will need to fill out the form with general contact information, select the appropriate committee, select “for” HB411, and write a short comment.  The contact form will only allow you to send the message to one recipient at a time.  Please copy your message and submit it to both the House and Senate Natural Resources Committees.

If you have questions or thoughts on this or any other legislative priority, please feel free to contact MTU’s full-time Government Affairs Coordinator, Clayton Elliot, [email protected]

Blackfoot River Outfitters Memorial Float

Blackfoot River Outfitters hosts its annual Memorial Float October 13, 2018.  This float annual float is held in the memory of lost loved ones.  Guides donate their time and the proceeds from the event are donated.  Montana Trout Unlimited is honored to be the recipient of the proceeds of this special float.  All funds raised will be put toward our work to protect Montana’s Smith River.   There are both guided fishing and scenic float options.  Visit the the Blackfoot River Outfitters Memorial Float site for more information and more ways to participate!

Smith River Mine Public Hearings

Scoping TimelineMontana’s Smith River is renowned worldwide for its clean water, rugged canyon scenery, and incredible trout fishery. The Smith is Montana’s only permitted recreational river. A small Canadian mining startup, Tintina Resources, has partnered with Australian mining firm Sandfire, and has submitted an application to the State of Montana to build a massive copper mine at the headwaters of the Smith River, directly adjacent to and underneath Sheep Creek.
The Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has begun composing an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), and has set a deadline of November 16th to submit comments regarding scoping (the initial process of determining what issues should be studied in the EIS).  The scoping process gives the public, you, a chance to tell DEQ what you want included in their analysis-and why it should be included.  DEQ has set the date for three initial public hearings (dates and locations listed below). Please consider attending the public hearings.  After the hearings, you will also be able to submit written comments on this critical phase of the EIS.

Public Hearing Dates

Great Falls: Monday, October 30th from 6-9 PM, Great Falls Civic Center, 2 Park Drive South

White Sulphur Springs: Wednesday, November 1stfrom 6-9 PM, White Sulphur Springs High School Gymnasium, 405 South Central Avenue

Livingston: Tuesday, November 7th from 6-9 PM, Park County High School Gymnasium, 102 View Vista Drive
Information on bus and ride share travel coming soon!

Suggested Public Comment Talking Points

The Wild Fishery of the Smith River Basin: DEQ should evaluate the baseline conditions of the Sheep Creek and Smith River wild and native trout fishery. The Tintina project has the potential to dewater and contaminate both surface water and groundwater connected to the Sheep Creek tributary, and then to the main Smith River.  There is clear evidence that wild trout, and potentially some native fish species, use Sheep Creek extensively for spawning and as a cold water refuge during low, warm water conditions in the Smith.  There is also clear evidence that during their life-cycle, trout migrate between Sheep Creek, the Smith River, and the Missouri River. In addition, during periods of low water, Sheep Creek is the largest source of clean, cold water to the mainstem river, which is vital for the health of the entire Smith River fishery all the way to its confluence with the Missouri River. Considering that impacts to water quality and quantity in Sheep Creek are a concern for the fishery all the way into the Missouri, there must be a thorough baseline study of this extensive, at-risk fishery. DEQ should include and rely upon Fish, Wildlife, and Parks, Region 4 fishery biologists and managers in the EIS analysis.

 Jobs and Economic Growth in Outdoor Recreation:  In evaluating the possible negative impacts to water quality and quantity associated with Tintina’s mining proposal, DEQ should seriously consider the hit this would cause to a significant portion of Montana’s robust and growing tourist and outdoor recreation economy.  Tourists spend at least $350 million annually in Montana on fishing, which is at the heart of the state’s $7 billion per year outdoor recreation economy.  That economy generates over 71,000 Montana jobs.  Around 7,000 people float the 60-mile permitted stretch of the Smith River annually, with the hope of connecting to a part of Montana that is still wild. The fact that the Smith is the only permitted river out of Montana’s many amazing rivers makes clear how valuable it is for our recreation and tourist economy.  Economists have determined that fishing on the Smith River alone contributes up to $10 million annually for Montana’s economy, and that doesn’t include other recreational, agricultural and tax benefits it generates. These are indefinitely sustainable dollars, and they benefit real people and real jobs  that would be lost if the river is degraded. Outfitters who have worked for over twenty years on the Smith River have collectively employed hundreds of guides and other staff.  Add to these careers the cost taxpayers might have to foot to clean up a big spill, or to keep toxins from leaking in the future, and it becomes a high price to pay. Unfortunately, the citizens of Montana will assume all the risk, while the corporate boardrooms of Tintina’s owners in Perth, Australia and New York City reap the rewards.
 Water Quantity in Sheep Creek and the Smith: The Smith River and Sheep Creek already suffer from low flows during most years, putting pressure on downstream water users and preventing the fishery from reaching its potential. Tintina plans to pump large volumes of groundwater in order to keep the underground tunnels dry during mining. This could alter flows in Sheep Creek and other streams that rely on that groundwater for a portion of their flows. DEQ should evaluate the potential impacts to Sheep Creek and the Smith River from reduced flows as a result of mine activities.
 Water Quality in Sheep Creek and the Smith: DEQ should evaluate the potential long-term impacts to water quality in the Smith River watershed from acid mine drainage because the Tintina Project is a sulfide deposit.  When sulfide minerals are dug up and exposed to air and water, they can react to form acid mine drainage, which is toxic to fish and other aquatic life.  Once acid mine drainage develops on a large scale, it is impossible to stop, and it can continue for hundreds of years – requiring expensive long-term treatment.  DEQ’s analysis of acid mine drainage potential for this mine proposal should include evaluation of mine tailings, which will require isolation from air or water to safeguard against leaching toxins.  Other mines in Montana that have developed acid mine drainage have caused lasting damage and cost taxpayers tens of millions in treatment costs. DEQ should also evaluate the potential water quality impacts of other harmful metals, such as arsenic.
Potential Massive Expansion of the Mine: While Tintina has portrayed their project to Montanans as a relatively small and underground mine, they have simultaneously been acquiring the mineral rights to a very large tract of land directly adjacent to the proposed mine. These mineral rights are located both on private and public land, and stretch from the proposed mine site to within a couple of miles from the Smith River, and cross over several other tributaries to the Smith and Sheep Creek. Tintina is on record claiming that the “upside” of the project, or the long-term opportunities, is a 50-year mining district, that would ultimately turn the western side of the Little Belt mountains into an industrialized zone. The company currently maintains over 500 mining claims on public land totaling more than 10,000 acres surrounding its Black Butte site.  DEQ must, as part of the EIS process, consider the secondary and cumulative impacts associated with the expansion of the mine.


Montana DEQ adds additional public meeting in Helena

Smith River supporters will have another opportunity to voice their concerns about Tintina Resource’s proposed copper mine on Sheep Creek.  Montana DEQ has announced a fourth public meeting to be held in Helena.  For more information about the scoping process or talking points for comments please visit or refer to our October 16, 2017 post.

Public Scoping Meetings and Locations

  • Monday, October 30, 2017 – Great Falls Civic Center, 2 Park Drive South, Great Falls, MT
  • Wednesday, November 1, 2017 – White Sulphur Springs High School Gymnasium, 405 South Central Avenue, White Sulphur Springs, MT
  • Monday, November 6, 2017 – Radisson Colonial Hotel, 2301 Colonial Drive, Helena, MT 
  • Tuesday, November 7, 2017 – Park County High School Gymnasium, 102 View Vista Drive, Livingston, MT

All meetings are scheduled from 6-9 p.m.  Stay tuned for information on ride share and bus transport option.

Written comments may also be submitted electronically to [email protected] or by mail to:

Craig Jones
Department of Environmental Quality
P.O. Box 200901
Helena, MT 5962-0901